It’s the lasting image of the 2007 IIHF World Championship: Rick Nash takes the puck at centre ice, skates straight toward the net – Finnish defenceman
Pekka Saravo draped over his back from the blue-line in – and puts a backhand past Kari Lehtonen before crashing to the ice.
Make it 4-2 Canada over Finland with 1:06 remaining in the gold medal game.
As highlight-worthy as the goal was, it also perfectly encapsulated the character of the team that won Canada’s 24th world title.
“That was a resilient group,” says head coach Andy Murray.
The record book shows Canada’s National Men’s Team won all nine of its games in 2007. But dominant wouldn’t be the word to describe the means that got them
to the end.
In the preliminary round, the Canadians beat Germany (3-2), Norway (4-2) and Slovakia (5-4). In all three games, Canada allowed the first goal.
In its first game of the qualifying round, against Belarus, the team once again fell behind. But thanks to three goals – one shorthanded, one on the power
play and one even strength – from captain Shane Doan in a span of 6:35 in the second period, Canada went on to win 6-3.
Against the Czech Republic, Canada trailed three times, its only lead coming 23 seconds into overtime when Eric Staal finished the rebound off an Eric
Brewer point shot for a 4-3 win.
After that, Canada never trailed again.
“I always tell people that in Canada our emotional well for the game of hockey runs deeper than any other country in the world and we can dig deeper when
we have to,” says Murray. “That was the kind of team we had. Our guys [basically said], ‘we’re over here for three weeks, let’s win it.’”
The roster put together by first-time national team general manager Steve Yzerman was a mix of veteran leadership and youthful enthusiasm.
Eighteen-year-old Jordan Staal had played his first season with the Pittsburgh Penguins and finished +4 with two assists in Russia.
And Jonathan Toews, then 19, had won gold at the past two IIHF World Junior Championships and just completed his first year at the University of North
“I think it really proved that he could play right away and was ready to come to the NHL,” says Murray. “I think his nickname was ‘water boy’ because
whenever somebody needed some water there was kind of a holler that went out for water boy and he’d run off to get some water for the guys.”
A hat trick from Matthew Lombardi – with a solitary red hat thrown on the ice in support – keyed Canada’s 6-3 win over the United States to finish off the
qualifying round. Lombardi scored two more times in a 5-1 win over Switzerland in the quarter-final.
“I got to play on a line with Nash and Lombardi,” says Doan. “I had a really enjoyable time playing with those two.” The trio combined for 33 points.
“Containing Nash is not that easy,” says Doan about an otherwise frequent foe. “Playing with him is.”
It was a close-knit group, says Doan about a team that in between off-day visits to Red Square and the Kremlin ate dinner every night as a team.
“I got to meet [Vladislav] Tretiak and it was all setting up for us to play Russia in the finals, on the 35th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series,” says
Doan. “It didn’t work out, but it would’ve been something special.”
That’s because the one rival Canada didn’t face in Russia was, ironically, Russia. The host team was the favourite that year, with a roster that included
Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk. The Russians rolled into their semifinal against Finland an undefeated 7-0. Gold on home ice wasn’t
to be, though. Mikko Koivu scored 5:40 into overtime to send Finland through to the final.
Mike Cammalleri and Toews scored 78 seconds apart in the first period to stake Canada to a 2-0 lead over Sweden in the day’s second semifinal. After the
Swedes responded early in the second, Nash and Eric Staal scored late in the period to complete the scoring in a 4-1 win that sent Canada to the gold medal
game for the fourth time in five years.
The expected opponent didn’t await, but that didn’t diminish the scene or the accomplishment.
“To win a tournament in Russia is pretty special,” says Murray. “We were pretty excited about that for sure.
“I’ve had the good fortune to be on the winning side three times at the worlds and I always love to stand back and see the guys with their medals standing
at the blue line and the anthem being played,” says Murray, who called his mother back in Manitoba from the ice. “There’s nothing better in my eyes than
seeing your flag be raised in a foreign country and hearing your anthem played.”
Doan has played for Canada six times at the worlds, as well as at the 2004 World Cup and 2006 Olympic Winter Games.
“It was just a good time,” he says about 2007. “It’s one of my fondest memories of playing for Team Canada.”